An Approach to Develop Cosmetics for Multi-tonal Brazilian Skin


The skin expresses messages and thoughts beyond words. It can indicate gender, age, ethnicity, general health and other information about an individual. The skin also transmits a state of mind and emotion, such as happiness, anguish, sadness and fear.1, 2 Daily makeup is therefore important not only for esthetics, but also to make the individual feel free from visible stigmas or deformities, and to improve self-esteem.3, 4

Makeup products have evolved significantly in recent years, incorporating ingredients that provide added benefits such as moisturizers, sunscreens and vitamins. Choosing the most suitable cosmetic for a particular individual will depend on the hue of the pigmentation to be concealed or the skin tone to be enhanced. Characteristics of the skin also should be determined in accordance with texture, moisture, color and oiliness.5-7

Currently, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IGBO) uses five categories in the census concerning ethnicity and skin color: white, indigenous, black, brown and yellow. However, most Brazilian residents know that far more than these five skin colors are present in the region. The University of Campinas (UNICAMP) conducted a study in 2005 where more than 125 skin tones were identified in Brazil. Interestingly, the same study also revealed that every two years, four more tones appear.8

In Brazil, miscegenation is intense, and it is possible to find phototypes I to VI9 as well as several “subphototypes” in the various geographic regions of the country. One common complaint from women in this market is that they cannot find makeup that matches their skin color, especially those who are very pale, i.e., Fitzpatrick type I, or who have brown and black skin, i.e., types V and VI (see Table 1). In the professional market, makeup artists often combine two or more foundation tones to match the client’s color; however, this approach is not viable for most consumers, nor is it practical. According to internal consumer studies at the author’s company, Brazilian consumers, especially those having indigenous, brown and black skin color, usually import products from international sources offering a greater variety of colors, or try to mix two or more products at home in order to find the right tone for their skin.

Understanding the differences in color among varying ethnic types can assist chemists and formulators in developing products to target their diverse needs.10 This paper reviews the phenomena that produce skin color and explores the variety of skin tones in the Brazilian region. It presents a process used to create a new range of color cosmetics with added benefits suitable for the various skin tones, based on a sample representing the most different miscegenations. This task was accomplished by the collaboration of makeup artists, photographers and experts in product innovation. To understand skin tone for the development of effective cosmetics, however, it is first important to consider how skin color is visualized.

Visualization of Skin Color

Skin color results from interactions of light with the epidermis and dermis. There are four important pigments in normal skin that affect its perceived color: melanin, oxygenated hemoglobin, reduced hemoglobin and carotenes. The color of healthy skin is due to both pigments and dispersion of light in layers of the skin. Optical phenomena are produced by basic interaction mechanisms of light with matter. Incident light is absorbed and undergoes further refraction, direct reflection (specular), or scattered and diffuse reflection into and out of the skin at different angles, finally reaching the viewer’s eye. When light strikes irregular and deep surfaces such as wrinkles and expression lines, it is not reflected and as a result, it does not reach the viewer. The eyes therefore see darkness in that location as a line or wrinkle in the skin. Figure 1 shows the four types of interaction between light and a surface.

Optical principles were studied within the author’s company for cosmetic products including creams, lotions and especially makeup. Materials such as pigments, polymers or combinations of both can absorb, reflect, diffuse and tint the reflected light. To achieve such effects, it is necessary to consider the intrinsic light-scattering characteristics, size and sphericity of the particles in the cosmetic. By properly modulating these physical principles and choosing the correct pigments, dyes and optical diffusers, product developers can create products that effectively conceal lines and wrinkles, and soften blemishes and other imperfections.

For example, emulsions of mineral pigments such as titanium dioxide, iron oxide and ultramarine blue can be used to neutralize reddish or purple tones in skin. This is based on the approach that choosing a color from the opposite side of the chromatic “triangle” or “wheel” from the pigment of concern cancels out its prominence (see Figure 2).3 To correct purple-toned bags under the eyes, one can use concealer with yellowish pigments; or to disguise a reddish scar, the best option is to use a foundation with green undertones. All of these principles laid the foundation for the development of color cosmetics with improved color-matching effects.

Material and Methods

Part I—studio: Two hundred and fifty Brazilian female volunteers were selected with different skin phototypes (I to IV). For three days, volunteers were individually photographed before and after the application of a liquid foundation (see Figure 3). Photos were taken by a professional photographer with standardized position, color and intensity of light.

Initially, 38 liquid foundations were selected so that each participant could use a product that closely matched her skin color. In addition, different background skins were evaluated, such as yellow and pink. As the volunteers arrived, they cleaned their faces with makeup remover wipes, their photograph was taken, they applied the liquid foundation that best matched their skin tone—along with lip and eye makeup, if desired, and a new photograph was taken. This was later evaluated by a color specialist. The intent was to maintain their natural skin color as much as possible. If necessary, the process of applying foundation was repeated until the best suitable color was found.

Part II—workshop: After all photographs were taken, a workshop was held involving a multifunctional team of makeup artists, photographers, researchers, product evaluators and color specialists, who reviewed the before and after photos to verify which liquid foundation mixtures best suited the different skin tones. Based on statistical analyses of color relations made by the specialists, foundation tones and skin backgrounds in the photographs, a color ruler was defined based on the colors used most in the study. Those that were similar were eliminated for a final total of 18 shades. This tool aimed to serve the development of products for the larger skin tone groups of: white, yellow, light brown, dark brown, mulatto and black, with different skin backgrounds of yellow and pink.

Part III—sample development: Using the color ruler, it was possible to verify which pigments were most commonly used for each shade. The development team then adapted formulations to create 18 tones of medium-coverage foundations and compact powders; eight tones of low-coverage liquid and powder foundations; and six tones of concealers. Besides tone variety, four different foundation textures were developed; i.e., matte liquid, glossy, ultra-light and powder—as well as a compact powder and a concealer (see Table 2).

Part IV—testing: The test products were subjected to the usual stability tests, which evaluate formulations by means of nine different exposure conditions: sunlight, freezer, refrigerator, dichroic light, fluorescent light, 37°C, 45°C, 50°C and room temperature. Moreover, safety and efficacy tests were conducted, including those measuring allergenic and irritation potential, comedogenicity and safety in use. Here, 30 volunteers representing the most common skin tones found in Brazil used the products for 21 days. After this period, they answered a questionnaire about spreadability, stickiness, durability and pleasantness as well as color uniformity. In addition, since sun protection is an important claim to Brazilian consumers, the photoprotective effects of the formulations were assessed through a clinical study using PPD and COLIPA methodologies. During all studies, subjects were allowed to use the makeup products as they usually would. Although many of these tests were not directly correlated with skin tone, they were necessary since the final products were intended for application to the skin.

Results and Discussion

After 90 days, the formulas did not present significant changes in appearance, color, odor or viscosity (data not shown). The formulations evaluated presented the expected safety profile; i.e., they did not cause rashes and/or other undesirable skin reactions. Also, the desired SPF was reached in all the formulations (see Table 2). Results also indicated that the products were sensorially pleasant and especially effective in offering options for different consumers. Applying the skin ruler to the makeup development process thus made it possible to reach better results in optimized time, since the color shades on the skin ruler could easily be applied to represent most Brazilian skin tones.

This development tactic was more assertive than traditional means, allowing for the determination of color combinations to best meet the needs of Brazilian women. Overall, tonalizing cosmetic compositions for different ethnicities appears to be an extremely useful approach for the cosmetic industry. This process was employed in the development of the quem disse, berenice? line of products, which represents more than 18 skin tones. Behind this variety of products and textures is the freedom of choice for a vast array of Brazilian skin types in the makeup market.


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  2. EO Monteiro, Abordagem do paciente candidato ao tratamento dermatológico estético, Ciência e Arte 4, 4–13 (2012)
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  9. EO Monteiro, Cor da pele e pigmentos, RBM Especial Dermatologia 67 5-10 (2010)
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  11. (Accessed Jul 14, 2014)
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